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Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer: Their Sweet Love Story

Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer
See a timeline of Diane Sawyer's romance with the late Mike Nichols Rommel Demano/Getty Images

Mike Nichols died suddenly on Wednesday, thus bringing an end to the Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate director's illustrious Hollywood career — and his sweet romance with his wife of 26 years, Diane Sawyer.

Related: Legendary Director Mike Nichols Dies at Age 83

In a letter ABC president James Goldston sent to staffers Thursday announcing the movie maker's passing, he wrote that Mike, 83, and Diane, 68, shared a "true and beautiful love story." And they did.

It began in 1986 when Diane, then the first female correspondent on 60 Minutes, met Nichols — one of the few EGOT winners (that would be an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony) — in the Concorde lounge at the Paris airport. She wasn't at her best — she was traveling with her mother, who had a health scare while they were away — and was underdressed in ratty jeans and a stained turtleneck. Nichols introduced himself.

"I knew before he spoke, I knew before he was walking across the room," Sawyer told Harper's Bazaar last year of their initial connection. "I knew something was happening, and maybe it's that beautiful hallmark. Cue the violins? But I knew my life was changing."

Nichols, whose third marriage was ending (amicably, according to his ex), was instantly smitten with the beauty queen turned newswoman.

"If you want to talk about glamorous," Nichols recalled to the Hollywood Reporter in 2012. "She was hiding in the lounge because she hadn't done her hair or something. I found her and said, 'You're my hero.' And she said: 'No, you're my hero. Do you ever have lunch?' She wanted to interview me for 60 Minutes. I pretended that I was up for it, and we had about 14 lunches."

Despite his impressive résumé, Nichols had been in a slump prior to meeting Sawyer. A minor heart problem had put him in the hospital, where he was given the sedative Halcion to sleep and became addicted, depressed, and delusional. Kicking his addiction and falling in love with Sawyer gave him a new lease on life.

Related: Mike Nichols' Most Memorable Movies

"My life began at 54," he continued. "I had loved other women before, but not like this."

He said that it was during their getting-to-know you lunches when his eyes truly opened.

"I thought we were the two greatest bulls–ters," he told Vanity Fair in 1994. "I thought we were brilliant but totally full of s–t, so smart and such good talkers and so modest, so wise. It took me a long time to realize that, in the first place, she wasn’t bulls–tting, she was real, and then — to my astonishment — that I was, too. And it was because of her. The way she saw me let me finally see that I was real, too."

He gushed, "True love made Pinocchio a real boy. It really happened, because she loves me and accepts things about me I can’t imagine anyone accepting. I was astounded — I kept saying, ‘Me?’ I thought there wasn’t enough of me for a whole person."

Their wedding took place on Martha's Vineyard in April 1988. Diane, who had never been married and had no children, said "I do" to the father of three in a private ceremony at a church and they held their small reception at Carly Simon's nearby home.

"When you wait as long as I did, Mike is a kind of miracle," a newlywed Sawyer told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1989. She added that while it was her husband's fourth time down the aisle, it was the last one for both of them. "An absolute commitment," she called it.

Related: Hollywood Mourns the Loss of Mike Nichols

Because of her career, Sawyer didn't really have firm roots — and joked that she "had only a mattress on the floor for furniture." Marrying Nichols changed that. He had a Manhattan townhouse, a home in Santa Barbara, California, and a Connecticut country home, and she embraced it all.

"I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when I moved in with Mike and discovered his homes actually had extra light bulbs and toothpaste," she told the newspaper. "My idea of paradise."

They later added their own Martha's Vineyard home – a 17.5-acre estate called Chip Chop — to their real estate portfolio and started summering in the spot where they married.

The couple never had children together, a topic Sawyer, who was 42 when they married, addressed during a 2010 interview with Time magazine. "I've always thought that was a curious idea — that if you have more time, then you decide to have children. That's not the way it happens. I have stepchildren, and I have — what do the Quakers say? — a basket filled with children whom I adore," said Sawyer, who was stepmom to Daisy, Max, and Jenny and step-grandmother to four. "I wish I'd met my husband earlier [though]. That would've been great."

Despite their big careers, the couple made a point not be apart for long stretches over their two decades together – and they supported one another's professional endeavors. In a 1994 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Nichols talked about a meeting he had with the producers and cast of his movie Wolf, which Sawyer attended.

Related: Mike Nichols's TV Legacy

"People seemed surprised to see Diane pouring iced tea for everybody," he recalled. And while it was nice that his wife was supportive, he didn't want to hold her back or slow her down from her own goals, quipping, it "would be like taking a Ferrari to go shopping."

He added, "She is the kindest, smartest, most beautiful woman I've known. I love her entirely."

Sawyer has talked about how having their own careers actually helped their marriage.

"Do you know 'Goodbye for Now' by Stephen Sondheim? Mike and I love that song," she said to Ladies Home Journal last year. "We're both passionate about our work: He'll say, 'I have to go and do this.' And I'll say, 'I have to go and do this.' And then we'll come back home and it's 'Hello again.' It's a beautiful thing, seeing someone you love so enraptured by what they do."

The spark never faded for the pair, despite growing older and experiencing some of the less glamorous sides of marriage.

"Mike asked me once, 'Would you just please wear the newer sweatpants?'" she told the magazine. "I thought that was the most tragic comment he has ever made to me. But I went ahead and put them on anyway."

Despite typical little husband and wife exchanges like that, she went on to say that Nichols always spoiled her with love.

"[Mike is] much more romantic than I am," she said. "He puts little notes in my sock drawer or in my suitcase before I leave for a work trip. I think one of the most romantic things is simply the way he reaches for my hand all the time."

She continued, "We rarely fight and I remember once when we were arguing he stopped in the middle of it and said, 'Well, this is sort of fun, too.' And it was! It was good to know that we could get out our strong feelings but that we were indestructible at the same time."

The couple made several appearances together over the last month. They attended the premiere of The Real Thing on Broadway on Oct. 30  followed by Oscar de la Renta's funeral on Nov. 3. Their final one was at Anjelica Huston's Watch Me memoir release celebration. They were as lovey-dovey as ever with their arms wrapped around each other on the red carpet.

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